Choosing to Look Away: Pain avoidance

In these weeks of living life in a new way with the Coronavirus pandemic, I have found myself doing something I am not normally inclined to do: choosing to look away from the ongoing Opioid Epidemic. Sadly, it has been easy to do. John and I arrived in Melbourne in March on the last flight from LAX allowing non-residents into Australia. When we planned our trip in January to be here for the completion and delivery of our new Tiny Home, Covid-19 was barely in the news.

After our 14-day quarantine, and during our first few weeks here, we were supposed to speak at two events which were cancelled. When the meetings switched over to Zoom, we were then able to share the story of Opiate Nation. It was well received and appreciated, as it brought to light pitfalls and vulnerabilities that parents and their children face in the 21st century. Since then, we have been busy setting up our new home, arranging installations, and finding furniture and appliances. We are thankful and feel blessed to be able to be here with our daughter and family – and to be in a country where the leaders have been honest and proactive, where the government has a wide social safety net and comprehensive health care for everyone, and where the public is almost uniformly willing to trust and follow their stipulations.

Meanwhile, in the back of my mind, I have continued to think about people struggling with addiction and wondering what their lives are like during these times that are challenging – even for the rest of us. With the restrictions to help slow the spread of the virus, many rehab and recovery programs are now not an option. For those who have had jobs, many of which are hourly-wage or temporary positions, they may now be unemployed. If they are taking medication as part of their harm reduction/medication assisted treatment, how will they pay for it?

The question isn’t ‘Why the addiction?’, but rather, ‘Why the pain?’

Gabor Mate

As ever, it is the poor and marginalized of society who suffer the most during crises. We are not suffering. We have all the food we want, a safe home to live in, private health insurance. John has work and is able to do it from wherever he can plug in his computer. Most of our friends are in the same position. So it is pitifully easy to choose to look away. This is called “Pain Avoidance”. It is commonly held that people make choices to avoid or decrease pain or make choices that create or increase pleasure. The “pain pleasure principle” is at the core of all the decisions we make. Once believed to be derived solely from experiences and repetition, it is now understood to also be hardwired in our brains via neurotransmitters. Genetics play a significant role in deficiency and excess here but it is very complex and I know very little about it.

I do know enough to understand that not only do individuals who are addicted to any substance or behavior want to avoid pain of some sort (as our son said about his heroin addiction) but the rest of us are probably doing the same thing. We are choosing to look away – today – at those less fortunate than us and go on with our own lives. And not only are we avoiding pain, we are seeking pleasure. But like someone who struggles with addiction, deep down we know this choice will only bring temporary pleasure. Can I, can you, make the more difficult choice of sacrificing self and looking long and hard at those suffering around us and seek ways to bring them some relief, some bit of pleasure? I know from experience that what comes from sacrificing my own interest, for the sake of someone else who can never repay me, brings me not just the temporary high of pleasure, but the treasure of lasting joy.

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I’m Crying Again
Mark Heard

The headlines in the dailies are the horses in a race
They lead you to believe that life and death are commonplace
Some believe it
And I’m crying again

I heard some good intentions and not all were second-hand
But bravado and pretension will not feed a hungry man
It’s been said before
And I’m crying again

Very quietly
The world loses blood overnight
Without a fight
In the morning
The sickness will hide in the light
Out of sight

Running from a world that they will never understand
The masses ride their passions with the throttle in their hands
Nobody knows
What is waiting around the bend

Now and then the criminal in my skin lets out a sigh
He’d like to think he’s innocent
But he cannot tell a lie
Truth is like a knife
And I’m crying again

I’m Crying Again© Word Music, Llc, Word Music, Inc. /Stop The Dominoes

Author: Jude DiMeglio Trang

My husband, John, and I are parents of a young opiate addict who died of an accidental heroin overdose at 25. These are our credentials for writing and working towards reversing the exponentially rising statistics for opiate addiction and deaths in our country and the world.

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